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Wilson Country Club’s youngest men’s golf champion since 2003 surfaced at the conclusion of the annual men’s and women’s golf championships Sunday.
Jake Herring, age 16 and a junior at Fike High, seized the men’s title after a sizzling 36-hole performance of 67-72 for a 5-under-par 139 that produced a convincing 11-shot victory.
Benefiting from a tournament committee decision that deems the club’s junior winner eligible to compete in the men’s division, Herring, who has committed to play at North Carolina State University, emerged the youngest champion since John-Tyler Griffin won the championship as a freshman at Fike High in 2002 and as a sophomore in 2003.
Griffin, who went on to star at Georgia Tech, now plays professionally on the Web.com Tour.
Herring, already accomplished in the sport at the age of 16, described the feat as comparative to a weekend outing against familiar opponents.
“I play against these people all the time,” he reasoned. “It’s like playing any other weekend.”
Herring was joined by Stan Corbett, John Garrison, Patch Wilkinson and Priscilla Brewer as WCC’s 2019 club champions.
Corbett surged to his first Seniors crown, edging first-round leader Hearn Walston by a mere stroke. Corbett carded a 77-76—153, followed by Walston at 74-80—154 and Russell Hesmer at 79-76—155.
Garrison was also a first-time victor, claiming Legends supremacy at 85-83—168. Al Thomas was the runner-up at 88-88—176.
Wilkinson reigns as the women’s champion for the fifth time since 2011 with a dominating 78-82—160 effort. Second was Beth Rhyne at 95-89—184, followed by newcomer Kelly Goeckner.
Brewer shot 90-96—186 to capture the Senior title against Katherine Rea.
Other top finishers were John Rhyne in the Open division at 79-84—163; Robert O’Hara in Championship “B” at 85-76—161; and Lee Fulcher in Seniors “B” at 81-75—156. O’Hara prevailed in a card playoff against David Lee, who posted an 81-80—161.
Herring took command Saturday, building a six-shot lead with a 5-under round that included six birdies. He bogeyed two of his first four layouts Sunday, but bounced back with birdies at Nos. 11, 12 and 17 in matching par over the 6.900-yard layout at 38-34.
The final group of Herring, runner-up Ben Eisner, David Hesmer and perennial contender Kent Williams was marked by age diversity with Herring at 16 and Williams at 53.
“I thought about that a little while ago,” Williams quipped.
Members of the group hailed Herring’s performance.
“He played well,” Williams expressed. “He had a little bit of a rough start, but the young man held on and kept his wits. He can absolutely play and I expect to see him on TV one day.”
Added Hesmer: “I am not playing well but, even if I was, I couldn’t make a charge against him. He makes it look so easy.”
Eisner, in just his second club appearance, noted he drew no closer than five shots during Sunday’s final round.
Eisner finished second at 73-77—150, followed by Matt Figg at 76-75—151 and Williams at 75-77—152.
“I played really well Saturday,” Herring reviewed. “Today, I hit some good shots but I also struggled a little bit. I just wanted to go out and have fun. It was like playing every weekend with these guys — nothing different.”
Of the huge margin of victory, Herring responded: “A win is a win, whether by 11, by one or in a playoff. But it’s definitely nice to win, especially being only 16. I’m happy with it.”
FINAL ROUND DRAMA
The Seniors division claimed the distinction of providing the only final-round drama.
Trailing Walston by three shots, Corbett registered four birdies and finally drew even with Walston on the par-4, No. 13 layout — where he parred and Walston bogeyed. The pair remained even until Corbett birdied No. 16 and Walston bogeyed.
Down by two shots, Walston got a shot back with a par at No. 17. From the fringe of the No. 18 green, Corbett two-putted from some 50 feet to salvage par. Walston’s birdie putt from the fringe was considerably shorter and missed by a couple of inches of forcing a playoff.
“I wasn’t counting on (Corbett) getting down in two from where he was,” Walston admitted. “He hit a great shot (within three feet of the flag).” Walston birdied Nos. 2 and 3.
“My chances today depended on how Hearn played,” Corbett, age 64, contended. “Unfortunately, he didn’t have a good day and it allowed me to stay with him. My thinking on No. 18 was to get it to the hole and don’t get past it.
“This is fantastic; I love it. I have only been playing golf for a few years. For me, this is a fantastic accomplishment.”
The 67-year-old Walston reflected: “I couldn’t get it going in the right direction. I missed a few putts. Saturday, I was not in a sand trap and, today, I was in four or five. That was really the difference. I hit 14 greens Saturday and maybe five or six today.”
STAYED OUT FRONT
Garrison entered the final round out front by thee shots against Thomas and by five against Doug Brewer. He fretted about his final 18 holes but never relinquished the lead.
“My short game was hurting me,” Garrison, 75, said. “My putting was probably holding me up. But I have been a member for about 30 years, and I am excited to win. I’m pleased. It was a small crowd and that helped.”
On the Women’s scene, Wilkinson dominated for the second straight year. Consistency marked her weekend, with her lone birdie coming on No. 15 Saturday.
WISH MORE WOULD PLAY
“Yesterday was better,” Wilkinson acknowledged. “But I just enjoy playing golf and I have fun playing golf. I want other people to play and have fun. It was two days of solid golf with competition in it. I enjoy playing golf and enjoy the people I play with.”
Wilkinson’s toughness impressed her opponents.
“I think it’s because of where she’s from,” Rhyne reasoned. “She’s from Africa and life is hard there. I think that’s the reason she’s so strong.”
Chimed in Goeckner: “She’s actually a little soft around the edges — especially if you give her some gummies.”
Wilkinson and Rhyne welcomed Goeckner, an orthodontist who recently established her practice in Wilson. The 6-foot Goeckner is a 2008 graduate of N.C. State —where she played volleyball. Goeckner revealed she resumed playing golf only a couple of months ago.
Priscilla Brewer emphasized her main intent was to encourage more women to play golf. However, she continued her busy golf schedule by taking first in the Seniors category. But a personal goal again eluded her
“I want to break 90 out here (WCC) but I can’t do it,” she lamented. “I did finally do it a week or so ago — but not today. I can do it at other courses, but hot here.”
Brewer then turned her attention to the scarcity of competitive women’s golfers.